Sunday, September 17, 2006

Book-A-Day #59 (9/14): Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami

There was a good review of this book in this weekend's New York Times Book Review, which I mostly agreed with, so I won't repeat what Terrence Rafferty said there.

I would be a bit more specific, though, by linking some separate items in Murakami's introduction: his first English-language story collection, The Elephant Vanishes, came out in 1992, and featured the best of his short stories to date. He also has only written a couple of stories in the decade since then (except for the separate linked collection after the quake, and, more importantly, the last five stories in this book, which were published as Strange Tales from Tokyo in Japan last year). So it's fairly clear that most of the stories in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman are the ones that were considered for The Elephant Vanishes, but weren't thought to be as good as those stories by Murakami, his translators, and/or his Knopf editors.

This explains why most of this book was subtly disappointing to me; it's hard to nail things down, story-by-story, without a detailed permissions list on the copyright page (which every short story collection should have, in my opinion), but I have the impression that most of these stories are actually earlier than the Elephant Vanishes stories. There's less of Murakami's more mature style, with fantastic elements thrown in casually and buried connections that the reader has to tease out, and a lot of Raymond Carver-y more-or-less mainstream stories.

Some of the earlier stories, though, are as good as any of Murakami's work -- notably the title story and "Firefly." (And some others almost work as well as they should, such as "A 'Poor Aunt' Story" and "The Seventh Man.")

More importantly, though, the five Strange Stories are great -- Murakami at top form. If Knopf had published them as a small book of their own (as they were in Japan, and much like after the quake here), it would have been one of the highlights of his career -- as good as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles or Kafka on the Shore. They may be embedded in a longer, more mixed book, but they're still essential Murakami.

No comments:

Post a Comment